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Dedication || 1: From a Front-line Cellar to the Hotel Crillon

IN THE FOLLOWING section of my chronicle of things seen and heard at the Peace Conference, I have in pursuit of clarity, an ideal so often praised by our French friends, withdrawn from the body of my diary many entries dealing with issues with which in my subordinate capacity I was closely concerned or which for a variety of reasons were of special interest to me. Also, in order to present in as straightforward and lucid a manner as possible the complex pleas of the many suitors and suppliants at the bar of the Great Assizes, I have made changes in the day-by-day chronological order of my diary, though each individual entry, of course, retains its original date. I can see objections to such rearrangement, but it does avoid much acrobatic springing from one topic to another, from the familiar home front to distant lands, from an involved ethnic factor to a remote boundary dispute.

In the main these excerpts deal with ancient questions once again become present-day problems which the Conference, and particularly the Great Four, pressed as they were for more urgent decisions, regarded as of such minor importance that they might be postponed, or, with advantage, could be relegated to the League of Nations then a-borning. Even before the League died, however, several of these neglected issues had developed into a menace to the public law so recently and so hopefully proclaimed throughout the world, and this neglect paved the way to the catastrophic situation in which all the nations of the world have for a second time been involved.

The proceedings in this impromptu world court, for such was the Peace Conference, have often been described as forensic battles between the Good and the Bad nations. This seems an illustration of a tendency toward over- simplification to which particularly in times of stress we are so often prone. This statement may be accepted as a half truth, but during the Conference I came across the illuminating words (and indeed was fascinated by them) which Thomas Carlyle, that Titan among the thinkers, applied to a somewhat similar but less tragic situation in his day. He wrote: "Formula and Reality wrestle it out" words that are truly descriptive of what happened then and are appropriate to what is happening today. The wrestling has brought widespread misery to the world and it is only too clear that the cut-and-dried formalist has not been silenced. He is heard today in the market places and in the forum and, as always before, he will put in an appearance at the Peace Conference.

While admitting failure in many regions where complete success had been too confidently expected, it should be stressed that no single feature of his programme was nearer to the heart of our crusading President than the fate of the submerged nationalities and the widely scattered ethnic factors (only too often but forlorn fragments) who presented themselves at the Great Assizes with their petitions, supplications and pleas. One of the basic mistakes in Mr. Wilson's campaign was, however, that he almost invariably ignored the experts - who could have told him that his belief in "easily recognizable frontiers of nationality" was not based on accurate knowledge, that frequently they did not exist, and that the traditional ties between reputedly sister nations were often tenuous and frequently snapped without warning. Yet it cannot be denied that the President, although the outstanding formalist, made a gallant fight in Paris for what he thought to be right and most certainly often was. He was slow in perceiving that many of his fellow delegates, blinded by racial or national ambition, seeking only what seemed economic advantages or a winning election slogan, were turning deaf ears to the voices of humanity and were not fearful of that unenviable pre-eminence in history which the President had in the opening skirmish predicted for them if only they could boost trade and maintain their parliamentary majorities.

The first trumpet note with which President Wilson electrified the world in that dark moment of world history should be recorded here. His words were:

The voices of humanity insist that no nation or peoples shall be robbed or punished because the irresponsible rulers of a single country have themselves done deep and abominable wrong. (Dec. 4, 1917)

Then getting down to details he insisted: "There shall be no more bartering of peoples and provinces as mere chattels and pawns in a game. Every territorial settlement is to be made in the interests of the populations concerned." And last but by no means least, he demanded "the destruction of any arbitrary power anywhere that can disturb the peace of the world." (The full text of the Wilson programme is detailed in the Appendix.)

By April 1919 the President came to a truer appreciation of his situation and he saw, as General Smuts put it in words a few days later, "that humanity was failing him." It was then on May 31st that he summed up the pleas he had so often made in the sessions of the League and Covenant Commission, where he had so frequently insisted that the treatment of the submerged and the oppressed nationalities would prove the acid test of the Conference. But by this time his confidence in the outcome of the good fight was weakening. He asked questions and his words were pleading, unlike the tone of perhaps unconscious arrogance with which he had opened his campaign. In this mood his words were:

Nothing I venture to say is more likely to disturb the peace of the world than the treatment which might in certain circumstances be meted out to minorities and, therefore, if the Great Powers are to guarantee the peace of the world in any sense, is it unjust that they should be satisfied that the proper and necessary guarantees have been given? If we agree to the additions of territory asked for in this instance (particularly by Prime Minister Bratianu of Rumania), we have the vested right to insist upon certain guarantees of peace.

They were not forthcoming. There was an epidemic of sidestepping among the war-worn nations and unfortunately in the backward movement the people of America were not the hindmost. It is to be hoped that we have learned our costly lesson.

Stephen Bonsal

Washington, D.C.